Our world is precious, and not just to us. With growing human populations across the globe, resources have never been this limited or this in-demand. Food is one of the resources humans cannot live without, although not everyone has the same access.
People living in the northern regions in Canada, in places like Iqaluit, have food constraints. Many articles have been published and many news stories have aired, but alas this problem is bigger than simple awareness. Food problems in the north are nothing new, and the reasons are somewhat complicated.
Back in the 1940’s, warming of the Hudson Bay was already well underway. This change in temperature had a significant impact on the ice development during the winter freezing of the Bay. Not only did this change kill off most of the rare arctic birds that relied on the flowing waters later in the season to dive for food, but it also changed many of the migration patterns of animals as crossing the ice became impossible.
One of the largest animals to be diverted by this warming Bay was the caribou. For a long period in history, the Inuit people relied on the hunt of caribou for survival. With soaring costs of equipment, and very little access to timber, hunting in general had also declined greatly. In the 1950’s, the Canadian government decided to relocate many Inuit to areas with greater resources. Moving the Inuit from their native grounds upset many, and tensions grew.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the Canadian government apologized for this relocation. Before this apology however, a new policy was implemented in order to “modernize” the Inuit, since the changes occurring would make it impossible to maintain native customs and traditions. Much of this led to the current food crisis in the north, but nothing was more devastating than the adoption of a “grid market” based food supply.
The Inuit began to fish and hunt less, and as with most northern climates, growing vegetables is extremely difficult. The only way they could now gather their food was through the grocery store. These northern markets were instrumental in making a people dependent on the Canadian government. So now the Inuit could shop at the grocery store rather than hunt or fish, and although this was a major blow to indigenous culture, on the surface at least, it seemed like the Canadian government was stepping in to feed its people.
This is of course until one examines what it takes to bring food up north. With very little infrastructure, and enormous distances to travel, bringing food to the north is extremely expensive. To give an idea, a pack of 16 x 500ml water bottles costs $120, lettuce might cost over $40, and packaged foods such as Kraft dinner might cost $52 while costing only 2$ in Montreal.
Simply saying the prices are very different doesn’t truly give a sense of the problem. In order to truly understand, one must also imagine that there are no other supplies of food, so the grocery store now represents the lifeline. The costs are high, but they are insane if one factors in the fact that many Inuit don’t work. In fact, visiting Iqaluit, one realizes that the main positions in the city are held by white migrants.
The Canadian government has and continues to send money to the north in order to help pay for the food, but it’s far from sufficient. So to really get a sense of what’s going on, one has to imagine hardly any food, available food that is very expensive, limited money, and anything interrupting the supply having dire consequences.
This is the food crisis in the north, and although it will be an ongoing problem for years to come, there needs to be a focus on what can be done. As our planet continues to warm, the impact on the north is expected to intensify, and the Inuit future is unknown.
Pilot projects from various institutions are underway to help alleviate some of the troubles in the north. One such program, “the Guardian Project” being developed by Terragon, aims to train young Inuit to become sustainability leaders within their communities. The Program will provide hands-on opportunities to learn about and maintain various new green technologies that will assist with self-sufficiency, off-grid sustainability, and environmental protection.
New energy and water resources generated by these novel approaches will be put to good use within northern Inuit communities to reduce costs, improve sanitation and health, grow food in greenhouses, and protect the environment. The Guardian Project will aim to allow Inuit to recover their long-held independent ways and become sustainability experts and ambassadors for northern regions.